Chapter 1: The Hard Part
Finding Danny and getting home was supposed to be the hard part. It would, they imagined, require living days or weeks or even months in the Cretaceous era before Danny's anomaly would reopen, allowing them to launch a grand rescue plan—excepting, of course, the possibility that Danny would find his own way back and rescue them. Without their anomaly device, they had no way of opening the anomaly back to the future, so they'd need to either wait for a chance opening or find some way to power the device. And having accomplished all that, they'd still need to dodge predators and those flying ant things on their way back to their own time.
It would be difficult, maybe even impossible. It would take time and resources and ingenuity. All in all, it seemed like a hopeless case.
In the morning, after their uneasy night up a tree, it didn't take Abby and Connor as long as they'd expected to pick up Danny and Helen's trail to the second anomaly site. Helen had been too sure of her success and in too much a hurry to cover her tracks to any degree. Abby simply followed the shoeprints while Connor kept an eye out for predators; it took less than half a day, even with Connor limping the whole way.
"Do you think Danny stopped her?" Connor asked while Abby stood considering between two trails.
"Course he did," she replied distractedly, squatting down to take a better look at an indentation in the dirt. She could tell right off which way they should go, but Connor had been looking pretty winded, leaning more heavily than before on his makeshift walking staff. What with falling out of that tree and all, she'd been trying to let him rest here and there, without being obvious about what she was doing. "We're still here, aren't we? And we wouldn't be if Helen had wiped humanity off the face of the earth, yeah?"
"Guess so. Still, what if she did succeed and we're, like, immune because we're not where we're supposed to be in time? It's like when Cutter started talking about Claudia Brown and we all thought he'd gone mental. We couldn't remember her or Claudia or how it was before, but he could because he'd been inside the anomaly when things had changed."
"But the world hadn't changed that much. People still existed and everything. With what happened to Cutter, in our reality same as his, he'd gone through an anomaly. He'd left with the same people and under the same circumstances he had done in his."
"Do we know that?" Connor argued. "I mean, in our evolutionary timeline we'd been working in the ARC for months and had always operated under Leeks. In his, there was Claudia Brown and the ARC didn't exist. There could have been all sorts of other changes that we never knew about simply because, for us, nothing had changed."
Abby got to her feet and brushed her hands off on her thighs. "You know what? You're right. We don't know, and I'm not going to make myself crazy wondering about it. As far as I'm concerned, Danny stopped Helen, for good with any luck. We're going to find him and go home, and home is going to be exactly what it was when we left. Now let's go."
Without waiting for an answer she headed off down the left fork, knowing without having to look that he'd follow. She just couldn't take his doom and gloom routine just now. They still had to find Danny and get the hell home.
Helen's anomaly device was, miraculously, in full working order when they found it, and with Connor's convenient technological expertise, he was able to target site 333. The other side of the anomaly was dry and hot and bright, and there in the middle of it was Danny, sitting quite conveniently on a nearby boulder and flinging rocks out into the desert like he was skipping stones on a pond.
"What took you so long?" he asked, flinging another stone. "I saved the world ages ago."
Then he turned to them with a wide, Danny smile. Hugs and thanks were exchanged all around, and Danny told them with great enthusiasm all about Helen's unlucky encounter with the Cretaceous era raptor.
"If that thing hadn't killed itself trying to get at Helen, I think I'd take him home and have him knighted," Danny quipped. "Now is there any way to detour around the future predators on the way home?"
Connor configured the anomaly device with a different route, taking them through the Jurassic and Permian eras, and after several hours and a few close calls dodging creatures, they came out in what they presumed was modern day. From what they could tell, they were probably back in the Forest of Dean.
"What now?" Abby asked as Connor closed the anomaly behind them. "Should we head back to the ARC?"
Truth be told, she didn't fancy hiking through the woods when they had no sense of where the nearest road might be. She hadn't slept well the night before, what with Connor's making injured-animal noises every time he'd shifted. Add in all the walking they'd done that day and the difficulty of the day previous, she was just about done.
Danny deliberated a moment and, to Abby's immense relief, shook his head. "The anomaly will have alerted them already. Assuming they all aren't wandering through time and space looking for us, someone should be along shortly to investigate. If no one comes in an hour or two, we'll find a road and hitch back to the ARC."
The wait turned out to be nearly an hour. Danny kept watch while Abby and Connor sat against a giant tree trunk talking about all the things they wanted to do when they got back to the flat. Abby was dying for a nice hot shower to wash away the tree sap that had made its way into her hair while she'd slept, and then she'd sleep for a month. Connor said he just wanted to get his things the hell out of Lester's place and back in her second bedroom. His room, Abby added silently. In her mind, it would always be his room.
"Did you miss me?" he asked her, his smile mischievous but his eyes sincere. "Maybe just a little, eh?"
She feigned consideration. "Maybe, just a little. I mean, you may be a slob half the time, but Jack was one all the time so I guess I prefer you in that way."
"And at least you didn't leave your boxer shorts all over the place like he always does, so that's a plus."
Connor rolled his eyes. "Well after you threatened to kill me the last time, I didn't have much of a choice, did I? And you used that weird little voice you have when you're trying to freak me out, so it sticks in the mind."
"Weird little voice?" she echoed, punctuating every word, eyes narrowed. "I changed my mind. I didn't miss you at all."
Connor smiled at her in that charmingly dorky way of his. "So then you did miss me."
"I never said that," she argued, fighting a smile. "I said I prefer you to my impulsive, irresponsible baby brother. The same baby brother that gambled away my pet and then lied to me about it until you were forced to steal him back. It's not much of a competition."
He laughed and poked her in the side until she squirmed. "I didn't steal him back; I simply asked with great force…and an armed escort. Anyway, it was fun, and I can't argue with the results."
They both quieted, looking away from each other, as Abby remembered in vivid detail the outcome of that particular situation. From his expression she thought Connor was probably giving himself a good mental kick for sapping all the playfulness out of what had been a perfectly casual conversation. She thought about kicking him, too. They'd been back to what they had been before he'd moved out, before the kiss and all the accompanying awkwardness. And he, himself, was such a generally awkward person that any respite from it was a welcome relief.
"So, Danny," he called when the silence lapsed into discomfort, "what's the first thing you'll do when you get back?"
"Stiff drink sounds good about now," he answered distractedly. "Did you hear that?"
Abby jumped to her feet, Connor following more slowly. The footsteps were coming from somewhere to their left. Twigs snapped and leaves rustled as many bodies lumbered through them. Someone was coming.
"Must be them," Abby whispered, coming to Danny's side. "Doesn't sound like campers strolling about. Should we hide, in case it's not them? I don't know what Johnson's men are up to, now she's gone."
Connor chuckled nervously. "And what power do they have, legitimately speaking? Their fearless leader got eaten by a future predator because they were playing with anomalies."
"Doesn't matter anyway," Danny put in. "If they're military men, they'll have scoped the area long before now and will already know we're here. Just keep your wits about you. Still got your pack?"
Abby nodded, picking it up from where she'd left it by the tree and checking through the contents—one stun grenade, two nearly empty canteens, a folding knife, several granola bars, and even more granola bar wrappers. There was a small torch that wasn't heavy enough to be of use as a weapon, a box of strike-anywhere matches, a coiled length of rope, and a small first-aid kit. All in all, if it came to a fight, they were screwed.
As the sounds of movement drew nearer, Connor tried to usher Abby behind him, but she stood her ground right next to him. If something was coming for them, they'd face it together. That's what they always did, in the end.
Danny was faced away from the sound when the newcomers emerged, watching for a rear ambush as any ex-copper would have done, so he didn't see the look of utter shock cross Abby and Connor's faces when they saw who it was. He didn't know that their silence had gone from anxious expectation to dumbfounded horror, only that they hadn't announced the all-clear.
And even when he did look back and take stock of their rescuers, he didn't really know what he was seeing, except that he recognized one of the number.
"Jenny? What are you doing back? And what on earth have you done with your hair?"
The woman looked around like she wasn't sure to whom he spoke, and then tilted her head in confusion. "What are you talking about Danny? Who's Jenny?"
Then it was his turn to look confused. He looked at Connor for an explanation, but Connor seemed petrified where he stood, staring with wide and wet eyes at the man at the head of the group. He turned to Abby, but she stood with her mouth slightly agape, her bottom lip trembling, looking in the same direction.
Frustrated, he addressed himself to the man in question, "Sorry, I don't believe we've met. I'm Danny Quinn."
The man turned to the amnesic Jenny Lewis and then back, eyes narrowed. "I know who you are, Danny. We've been working together for almost a year now, haven't we?"
Danny looked closely at him, at Jenny, at Connor and Abby and all the military men accompanying the newcomers, and then around at the setting in general.
"All right, somebody start explaining something because I'm beginning to think I've gone off my rocker."
"Something's changed," Connor said finally, his slow, calm voice belying a mind operating at the speed of light. "Something we did or you did, somewhere in time…it's changed the present. It's an alternate evolutionary timeline. Or maybe the original. I don't know. I have no bloody idea."
"Abby, what's he talking about?"
Abby just shook her head, swallowing heavily.
"Connor? English, please."
Connor cleared his throat and nodded to the unnamed man. "Danny Quinn, I'd like to introduced Professor Nick Cutter and, if I'm correct…this woman here is Claudia Brown."
Danny waited for the punch line and, when it didn't come, turned his attention back to the newcomers. Nick Cutter was watching him with intense curiosity, as though he'd actually understood Connor's convoluted explanation and was analyzing the situation. Jenny… Claudia…was looking at them as though sizing them all up for straightjackets. Danny couldn't blame her. He was pretty sure he'd gone and lost it, himself.
And all he could think to say was, "Oh bugger."
Surviving, getting home, was supposed to be the difficult part. Once there, they'd go back to living their lives like every other day. They'd find anomalies and chase dinosaurs and find humour where they could, just as they had a hundred times before. They'd eat and sleep and drink and flirt, just like the day before and the day before that, and so on, and so on.
That was how it was supposed to be, how they'd expected it to be, how they'd taken for granted it would be. They were—as those who assume too much often are—completely and utterly wrong.